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Raindeer, 'Tattoo' (Friends)

DOWNLOAD: Raindeer, "Tattoo" RATING: ** 1/2 out of 4 The video for "Tattoo," the title track of Baltimore indie-pop act Raindeer's second album, presents the quartet in close quarters, something resembling a basement party with no other guests. The members -- singer Charlie Hughes, bassist Devin Byrnes, keyboardist Liz Vayda and guitarist Nicky Smith -- seem content playing their understated synth-pop, lighting each others' cigarettes and shooting each other silly glances. Confetti, for some reason, fills the air, but the band doesn't seem to care. Raindeer's music -- which has elements of the Smith Westerns' wide-eyed glam indie-rock, synth-heavy chillwave and Animal Collective's experimental-pop moments -- feels contained, as if its members are most comfortable in small spaces. There are pockets of pop ambition on "Tattoo's" 10 tracks (Vayda's short, high-pitched singing on "Tune Out," the chantlike buoyancy of "7th Avenue"), but mostly, this is an insular, headphones album. New listeners might struggle to connect with "Tattoo" because the majority of its vocals are obscured or processed through filters. There's also a sense of timidity in the singing from Hughes and Vayda, which undersells the stronger phrases and attempts to gloss over the forgettable ones. Raindeer seems to consider vocals simply as another instrument, and the results are inconsistent. This type of blending can be powerful (the hypnotic "By the Way") but also drag ("Tattoo II"). "Tattoo" is the quartet's second album in less than a year. The growth between projects isn't leaps-and-bounds territory, but it's there, mainly in composition and the players' abilities as musicians. The new album's title track is the strongest song here, and it highlights the band's strengths and weaknesses best. It retains the band's quirky, almost shy attitude, but goes all-in for the memorable call-and-response chorus. If Raindeer ever releases its great indie-pop album -- and it could -- "Tattoo" will be the album that revealed the potential. -- Wesley Case
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